Freaky Friday – What it Takes to Censor the Chinese Twitter

It’s no secret that the Chinese government is not a fan of free and unencumbered access to the Web. But unlike North Korea, which restricts Internet access to all but a privileged handful of citizens, China recognizes that you can’t maintain your status as a rising power without you know, email.

So you can actually get on a computer and surf the Web in China, albeit one that is heavily censored. In fact, unlike repressive regimes in say, Syria or Egypt, China has done a fairly good job keeping the conversation under control – i.e. no criticism of the government – even using the Web to boost its legitimacy.

But while it’s well known that the Chinese Internet is heavily policed, we actually don’t know much about how it’s done. Rice University professor Dan Wallach and several colleagues recently set out to measure how censors keep non-approved content from appearing on Weibo – essentially the Chinese version of Twitter.

You can and should check out the entire story here at MIT’s Technology Review. The results are equally fascinating and freaky. Wallach and his team measured the volume of messages as well as the time and frequency of deletions to make conclusions about how Weibo is censored.

To keep tabs on Weibo’s 300 million users, who send 100 million messages per day and 70,000 per minute, Wallach figured that it takes 1,400 censors at any given moment and likely 4,200 each day to scan and delete messages. And roughly 12 percent of all messages are deleted.

I try not to get too political on this copywriting blog. But at least to me, this is very important work if for no other reason than it highlights the fact that a free and open Internet isn’t a given.

And it can’t be taken for granted.

Monday Must-Reads

Happy Monday, iCopyInsiders. Ready for another week at the office?

Of course, I use the term “office” loosely. I imagine that – for many of our writers and clients – the office is wherever we make it. I like cafés as much as the next blogger, but I tend to stick to the nook in my apartment where I’ve set up shop.

I’ve got my headset, French press, WiFi, plenty of peace and quiet to write and a decent sixth-story view of Brooklyn, complete with a giant tree so I can tell the season. When the leaves turn green, I will finally go outside.

I bring all this up because telecommuting is suddenly the subject of surprisingly intense debate, with Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, axing work-from-home as an option for the tech company’s employees.

Which brings us to Item No. 1 on the weekly reading list.

  1. Where do you stand on telecommuting? Slate offers both sides of the debate. Tech columnist Farhad Manjoo writes that work-from-home is awesome. Katie Roiphe begs to differ.
  2. On to a topic only slightly less controversial: social media and ROI. eMarketer reports on a recent study showing that Twitter generates the most leads for small to mid-sized businesses, while Facebook generates more traffic. Social media itself only accounted for 5 percent of sales leads in the survey of 500 businesses.
  3. In other social news, this via The New York Times, Facebook is set to display targeted ads around the Web with its acquisition of Microsoft’s Atlas Advertising Suite.
  4. Of course, our passion here at iCopywriter is organic search, so if you need a refresher, this column in Entrepreneur has five simple strategies that just about anyone can use to improve their SEO. It’s a good primer for SEO newbies.
  5. And, finally, the Girl Scouts of America has pulled the plug on the ecommerce ambitions of reality television star Alana Thompson – known as Honey Boo Boo – saying she can’t sell the cookies over Facebook because it defeats the purpose of selling the cookies.

Other than dispensing tasty treats, the cookie program is meant to help young women gain confidence and business skills. I’m sold. Now, where can I find some Tagalongs?

That might be worth leaving the office for.

 

FreakyFriday: Weird of the Day – The Web Predicts the Future

The sum total of digital links, text, data, images and everything else you touch online everyday may just be the closest thing we ever get to a crystal ball.

Yes, there is a serious move afoot – led by very serious people – to mine the Web in order to predict future events. Don’t believe me? Just check out this paper by Microsoft Research and the Israel Institute of Technology.

Their idea: Software can recognize undetectable patterns in the mass of real-time and archived news and other information online – and analyze it in an unbiased way – to forecast future events. H/T to tech blog GigaOM for the link, as well as a great post about how the paper’s authors will be digging into two decades of New York Times articles and seeing what kind of forecasts they can extrapolate.

This idea isn’t so crazy – witness last week’s post about Google’s uneven efforts to predict the spread of the flu – and there are a number of startups in this area, including Recorded Future, which is already being marketed to the defense and financial sectors. You can even try a very limited version of Recorded Future for yourself – although the corporate plans and are going to cost you, big time.

But I encourage anybody to give the demo a spin to get a taste of predictive analytics. The focus of the research is on large, worldwide events, but we’re already seeing plenty of predictive analytics in the business world, including behavioral targeting and even algorithms that attempt to predict what will trend on Twitter.

Just imagine how hard it’s going to be to stay ahead of the curve when everyone knows where the curve is going.

Monday Must-Reads

Happy Presidents’ Day, iCopyInsiders.

I guess the foremost question on my mind is what Sasha and Malia Obama got their dad for his special day. In this case, a quick Web search wasn’t much help in digging up a good answer. Let me know if you find anything; I feel like somebody at least got him a tie.

However, I did find this interesting slideshow of Presidential gifts by The New Yorker.

The second thing on my mind this very Presidential Monday is the importance of social media and search rankings, which is how we’re starting off this week’s edition of Monday Must-Reads.

  1. AdAge charts how Facebook Graph Search will make it easier to measure ROI on social media, with some tips for optimization. No cheats here. As the Web gets smarter, every search engine will attempt to measure and reward genuine engagement with business-created content.
  2. VentureBeat breaks down ComScore’s Digital Future report. Among the key takeaways: Google still dominates search, but Bing is making slow but sure progress. LinkedIn and Twitter are neck and neck for unique visitors.
  3. TechCrunch picks this up from the ComScore report: 3 in 10 paid advertisements are never seen by customers. Considering that 5.3 trillion ads were shown in 2012, that’s a lot of ads that never saw the whites of a customer’s eyes. Don’t neglect your organic search marketing, folks! Connect with the people who are actually trying to find you.
  4. I have a few blogs I try to keep regularly updated – not to mention my workload as a freelancer – so trust me, I get that keeping content updated is a daily struggle. MarketingProfs has some helpful tips on how to build content marketing into a business routine. Routine, I would say, is the keyword.
  5. Also on the content side, Reputation Capital presents an interesting roundup of startup founders talking about the value of blogging. They ask a good question: Is it right for every business.
  6. Props to CNET for finding this: Harlem Shake Roulette. You’re welcome.

 

Monday Must-Reads

OK, iCopyInsiders, it’s all business this Monday. We’ve pulled together some pretty serious SEO reads for you to dig into this week.

Ah, who am I kidding? Before we begin, here is a cat watching the snowfall during the big blizzard the Northeast had over the weekend. And here is a snowy pup. Hat tip to Buzzfeed (who else?).

Also, watch a cool time-lapse video of the snowfall in Connecticut.

With that out of the way, we can move on to the weekly avalanche of search and marketing resources.

  1. Auto blog Jalopnik reports that the big car dealers are turning to SEO to move vehicles off their lots. But not everybody agrees on whether this is a good strategy or not, at least in terms of the specifics of the auto industry.
  2. Only 2 percent of Web users have signed up for a Vine account, but that doesn’t mean brands aren’t rushing to make use of the micro-video sharing site. SmartBlog has a handy guide for using Vine for content marketing. On a personal note, I enjoy Vine – and I’ve written as much on this site – but I would like to see a more robust user base. My gut says that Vine will continue to grow, but it may take some time.
  3. Via Search Engine Watch, online newsrooms are finally getting savvy to SEO, but the secret is in synergy between the PR types and the SEO team. Not to belabor the point, but good content leads to hits.
  4. Seems like I’m seeing more of these mega tip sheets on the blog circuit these days. Here is one from HubSpot: 101 ways to make people hate your marketing. Worth a skim. Don’t annoy people, basically.
  5. Lest you forget that Google Author Rank is shaking up the online search scene, here is CopyBlogger arguing that the late, great gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson would have been a huge fan.

FreakyFriday: Weird of the Day – Vine Gets Freaky

 

I guess this was to be expected; every emerging Web technology goes through its, uh, wild and irresponsible period.

Witness Twitter’s new video-sharing app, Vine, which allows users to post six-second videos for streaming. Naturally, the service found that most of the first week of its big launch was spent figuring out how to crack down on users posting porn and deal with the ensuing media attention.

Then the app experienced its first major outage within five days of going live.

That being said, I’m not ready to give up on Vine so easily. The service is already spawning third-party apps and extensions that allow users to embed videos into Tumblr feeds or search for cool content. And even in a few short days, users have embraced the medium in creative ways.

As any entrepreneur knows, things can get freaky fast when launching a new product. Here are my three takeaways when it comes to the weirdness that was Vine this week.

1. Give Vine time to grow.

Twitter seemed ridiculous too, at first. And while the micro-blogging site isn’t the right content delivery system for every business, few would question the cultural impact it has had since it first launched. Content platforms – and how people use and interact with them – evolve over time.

2. Vine can be used to make interesting business content.

The beautiful thing about Twitter is how it forces users to focus on their message. Now, this doesn’t work for all content, but you don’t have to be a marketing genius to recognize the potential of a memorable six-second video pitch. Vine will force marketers to be ruthlessly efficient – not to mention extremely creative – in how they deliver their message.

So, what’s your six-second pitch?

3. It’s OK if Vine isn’t for you.

I tend not to be a fan of social overload. A business doesn’t have to be delivering content on every single platform available. Not every business is built for, say, Pinterest, and that’s just fine. Actually, spreading content efforts too thin more often leads to weak or duplicate content.

Rather, it’s a good idea to focus on doing the best job possible on the social networks where you are active, and these should be the ones your customers are using. If video fits into that equation, by all means, start cutting some six-second clips.

FreakyFriday: Weird of the Day – It’s the iCopywriter End of the World Roundup – and We Feel Fine

By: iCopywriter Blogger Alex Dalenberg

In case you’ve been living under a rock – or maybe an ancient stone tablet – it’s the end of the world as we know it. Do you feel fine? Yes, the ballyhooed Mayan Apocalypse is finally here. Or, as a Facebook friend of mine put it, the most annoying day on social media. Ever.

We initially held off on writing this week’s Freaky Friday, you know, just in case. But the world hasn’t ended in Australia or New Zealand, so let’s do this. Um, what are the SEO or copywriting lessons here? Well, my professional takeaway is that, because it looks like reality is going to continue as scheduled, both those things will continue to be important to any Web presence!

You can still cash in on the last drops of viral goodness here – #EndoftheWorldConfession is trending on Twitter – but it’s probably too late for any apocalypse-themed sales. And all the good parties were last night. But hey, it’s not the end of the world, right?

So let’s just cut to the chase here with iCopywriter’s ultimate guide to our favorite end-of-the-world links.

1. The Onion suggests that the apocalypse is already here. So funny it hurts. A lot.

2. Slate has been a reliable source of end-of-the-world coverage. Here’s the effect on the markets, a report on past apocalypse scares and the ultimate end-of-the-world mashup. And yes, a few are even using the old last night on Earth line.

3. Still not convinced? Here’s a good debunking of apocalypse myths from National Geographic. Plus, what the Mayans actually meant with that whole calendar thing.

Photo Credit: Kim-bodia

 

Mashable Marketing Director Takes on Social Media

By iCopy Blogger, Senior Social Media Analyst and Movie-Meltdown Expert, Alex Dalenberg

A couple weeks ago, Todd Wasserman, marketing editor for Mashable, posted this share-worthy takedown of social media marketing – Let’s Face it: Most Social Media Marketing is a Waste of Time.

Read the whole thing. It’s worth your time, especially if you’re tired of the usual social media evangelism that floods your B2B Twitter stream.

Basically, the point Wasserman makes is that the importance of social media is way overblown for marketers and needs its own Jerry Maguire moment. You know, when Tom Cruise gets mad at his seedy sports agency and decides he isn’t going to take it anymore.

And Wasserman’s not the only one pointing this out. A study from IBM, which he cites, shows that Twitter generated zero sales referrals on Black Friday.

My personal favorite piece of social media analysis gleaned from Black Friday: most people were tweeting about long lines. Now that’s some serious brand insight.

Among Wasserman’s more salient points were a few that I heartily agree with:

  • You can’t buy “likes” anymore.
  • The level of engagement from your followers is much more important than your raw number.
  • And your social media efforts mean absolutely nothing if you’re not offering a quality product.

Take it from us: We write and edit the heck out of everything iCopywriter clients assign – but there probably isn’t a case where sterling grammar saved a bad business model.

But there is one point Wasserman makes that I think is up for debate. You’re not a publisher, you’re an advertiser, he says.

I’m not so sure. In the literal sense, yes, you are promoting products and services with your content. But from a nuts-and-bolts perspective of what it takes to do that online, you face the same challenges that print and online publishers do everyday:

  • How to create clean, compelling content that reflects well on your business.
  • How to keep that content updated on a regular basis.
  • And, most importantly, how to find the people who can make that happen.

How much time, energy and money you invest in social media and other forms of content depends on how you measure ROI. That’s going to be different for every firm. You might say the right response to social media is also from Jerry Maguire: “Show me the money.”

But from our perspective, businesses are cranking out more text than ever before. Like everything else your business does, it needs to be quality.

[Editor's note: I resisted the urge for a shameless self-plug in that last line...well, almost...]

 

 

Monday Must-Reads…

By: iCopywriter Blogger Alex Dalenberg

OK, it might not be as invigorating as a strong cup of coffee, but why not start your week with a potent brew of SEO and copywriting knowledge? If you’re interested in staying found on the Web – and what business isn’t? – then you know at some level you’ve got to keep up with this stuff.

Luckily, we’re huge geeks here at the iCopyInsider, so we’ve done the hard part for you. Welcome to our new feature: Monday Must Reads. Every Monday, we’ll bring you some of the best articles from around the Web related to SEO, SEO copywriting and pretty much anything else we think you might useful or interesting.

 

Here are five reads that we think are worth your time this week. Enjoy!

1. Is a picture worth a 1,000 clicks? How to boost SEO with infographics via Practical eCommerce.

2. VentureBeat asks an important question: Are you getting a good deal on SEO?

3. We wrote about the growing importance of Google+ last week, but here it is again. AdWeek talks about how Google+ is following Facebook’s trajectory.

4. Here’s a new tool recommended by PCWorld that you can use to see if your Twitter followers are actual humans.

5. And finally, here is a good read in The Guardian about the dying art of creative copywriting.

 

 

FreakyFriday: Weird of the Day – The Twinkies are All Right

By: iCopy Blogger Alex Dalenberg

With snack-making giant Hostess Brands announcing that it intends to close shop after some 80 years, the social Web is mourning the death of the iconic Twinkie.

Both Hostess and Twinkies are trending today on Twitter. To paraphrase the classic film Ghostbusters – and the greatest Twinkie-related line in film history – let’s say your average Twinkie represents the normal amount of social media activity related to cream-filled sponge cakes.

Well, according to this morning’s sample, it would now be a Twinkie 35 feet long weighing approximately 600 pounds.

As Winston would say, that’s a big Twinkie.

But don’t weep for your snack food yet. According to USA Today, it’s very likely that another company could pick up the brand, which still has plenty of name recognition, given today’s social media spike.

Have you checked out iCopywriter lately?

Photo Credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com